Bears are a hot topic in Kananaskis. We frequently get asked by visitors to the area if there are bears here, and once told that there are in fact bears here (grizzly and black!), the follow-up question is usually ‘Well do I need bear spray?’
The follow-up question is usually ‘But are there actually bears?’ Yes. There are actually bears in the Kananaskis area. Bears can be found everywhere in the Rockies, to be precise. Should you live in fear of bears? Heck no! There is no point in being afraid of bears, what everyone really needs is to be educated about bears, and bear safety. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. When you are buying it, the place selling it should give you a full demo on how to use it. If not, ask someone who is familiar with it. Knowing how to use bear spray is vital to feeling comfortable carrying it, and therefore comfortable in bear country.
Top things to remember in Bear Country:
Should you be afraid of being in bear country? No! Should you be respectful towards and educated about bears and bear safety? Yes! It is quite common for hikers to see a bear while out and about in the Kananaskis area. Typically the bear will move off, not wanting anything to do with people.
Things you probably didn’t know about bears:
Bears are beautiful animals; here are some of our locals:
Everyone wants that amazing and perfect close-up of a bear in the wild, but is that photo worth your life? Or a bears? A bear that becomes overly comfortable with humans, or with humans feeding it, is almost guaranteed to end up dead at the hands of humans, either having to be put down because it sees humans as a food source, or dead due to road mortality because it doesn’t see cars as a threat, or people are driving unsafely around it.
Over the years, working for Parks and now as a guide in the Rockies, I have seen some seriously crazy stuff. People need to realize that wildlife is…wild. You can’t walk up a wild animal like it’s a neighborhood dog. And sure, maybe the person before you did it, and they were fine. Maybe you can do it too, this one time. But it’s always okay, right until it isn’t. Then the next thing you know, there is a story on the news of a ‘bear attack’ and everyone calls it a tragic accident.
The truth is, most negative wildlife encounters are completely avoidable. Respecting an animals personal space and making noise so as not to surprise them will help stop most negative encounters.
Here are some ‘Best Practices’ for photographing or viewing wildlife.
If you are driving and you see an animal roadside, then it’s simple: Stay in your vehicle. Things start to go wrong when people start to view the wildlife as tame animals. Just because the bear is on the side of the road, and seems more interested in food than you, does not make it okay to get out and approach it.
Or a deer jam, or a squirrel jam, or any sort of traffic jam for whatever it is that you see. If you see wildlife, and you are going to stop for a better look, then pull over on the shoulder of the road as far as you safely can. If you cannot safely pull over and get off the road, then you don’t stop.
Do not stay by an animal for more than a minute or two (refer to #2). The bears do not enjoy having vehicles stop by them and stay there for an extended period of time. If you are going to stop and can safely do so, then stop for a minute or two, snap your photos, admire the animal and be on your way. We do not want animals to become accustomed to humans because in the long term, that is how they end up dead.
On this point, most people are probably thinking ‘Well obviously!’ But a lot of people are unintentionally ‘baiting’ wildlife through simple carelessness. Do you know how many common camping items are actually considered bear or wildlife attractants? Things like: toothpaste, shampoo, soap, cooking oil, canned goods, alcohol, freeze-dried foods, pet foods, dirty dishes, the clothes you cooked/ate in, etc. By leaving these things out and unattended in day-use areas or campsites, you are inviting wildlife into your site. A fed bear is a dead bear. And no photo is worth a bear’s life.
Any of it. Not even that cute squirrel or bird. Have you ever fed a squirrel or chipmunk and noticed that they are taking a lot of food? Like more than their own body weight in food? They are not eating it all, they are cacheing it around your site, creating little hidden treasures of food that will attract other animals to the area.
By now, everyone has probably heard about the well-meaning tourist in Yellowstone who picked up the bison calf because he ‘thought it looked cold.’ Do not assume that baby animals who appear to be left alone, are abandoned. Mothers in nature know what’s best for their young and it is not our job to interfere. Do not pick up wild animals, if you are concerned that something has been abandoned, or is injured, report it to your local conservation officers, park staff, or fish and wildlife officers. You can find these numbers online for your local area.
Do not expect to get a great close-up photo with your smartphone. Please don’t even try to do it. Use a zoom lens, or take the photo and crop it down after. Approaching wildlife with a smartphone to get a close-up photo is a sure way to get hurt.
So what do you do if you come across a bear on the trail or on the roadside? You should call it into your local wildlife hotline. Google to find your local wildlife authority or parks service. If you call in a report, you are going to be asked for some basic info. Here are some things that you will probably be asked:
This information is used for biologists to track bears and behavior and also used to dispatch conservation officers to help move bears along and stop human-bear conflicts. If you see a conservation officer or parks employee on the scene, then do not report it. The person on scene is there because someone else has reported it/they are already aware of the situation so you do not need to create duplicate calls.
People visit the mountains because they want to enjoy the landscape and the wildlife, so if everybody would do their part to be here and respect nature then we can ensure that these places are here and protected forever and that future generations will get to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.
When you live out here, you see some of the same bears on a pretty regular basis; you honestly start to love them and love seeing them. You get to watch cubs grow up, bears flirting during mating season, and bears fattening up during the fall. You eagerly await seeing the first bear of spring, since that means spring is really here.
What I want people to take away from this is that bears are incredible creatures that have a place here. This is their home that we are visiting and if we all follow some basic guidelines, we can live and play in bear country without being afraid.
Stay up to date with current Alberta Parks advisories here.
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